Zaghari-Ratcliffe 'won't let anger eat her up' as Labour call for consular guarantees

Former detainee speaks of her daughter's pain during the six years she was held in Iran

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe meets Andy Murray as she reveals she watched him win Wimbledon from Iran's Evin prison. Photo: Andy Murray / Twitter
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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she was “an emotional wreck” after receiving visits from her young daughter while detained in Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

Nine months on from her release from Iran, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 44, opened up about her life within the walls of the jail where she spent years separated from her family, including little Gabriella.

It’s right that there is a statutory right to assistance, not just a right that effectively depends on ministerial discretion
David Lammy

The mother of one said while she felt “very, very angry” at times, she made a decision to put her anger to the side “because, otherwise, it will eat me up for the rest of my life”.

Meanwhile, David Lammy, the UK’s shadow foreign secretary, is calling on the government to impose more sanctions on Iran. He laid out Labour’s plan to bring in a new legal right to consular protection for Britons who need help overseas, if the party gets into government.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe guest edited BBC Radio 4’s Today programme alongside her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, on Wednesday, and used the platform to promote freedom through food, comedy and sport.

She touched on how she found little moments of freedom during her six years in prison, including long periods in solitary confinement.

Gabriella was only 22 months old and still being breastfed by her mother when she was separated from her in April 2016.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was later sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the regime in Tehran.

She has always denied the charge.

The dual British-Iranian citizen recalled her experience as a mother behind bars, saying “the visit rooms with kids have to be some sort of an emotional, strange scene”.

“People cannot be indifferent about it,” she said. “You are taking a two-year-old or a three-year-old to see his dad or his mother in prison and that is going to be like an hour and then taken away from them.

“I was an emotional wreck but I often wondered how she felt about it.”

She recalled a time when she would make pancakes for her daughter before her visit, but the little girl would refuse to eat them, instead preferring her grandmother’s cooking.

During one visit she said it was “so painful” when the young girl accidentally called her “Granny” and her grandmother “Mommy”.

“Our places had shifted to a certain point,” she said. “Because my mom was the one who had to feed her, she wouldn’t take anything off my hands but she would take things from my mom’s hands.”

Another memory that sprung to mind was when she saw Andy Murray win at Wimbledon in 2019, which she said left her feeling “ecstatic”.

She told the player how she managed to get hold of his email address to tell him she felt “very, very proud” of his achievement.

Mr Murray responded by saying it made him “quite emotional” to imagine a fan of his celebrating his win from a cell in Evin prison.

“I appreciate you telling that to me,” he said.

Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli-born British chef, also offered her inspiration in the prison kitchen when she was allowed to cook.

'More sanctions on the terrorist state'

Seven people with links to Britain were arrested by Iranian authorities on Sunday. At least some of them are dual UK-Iranian citizens.

Mr Lammy said with tens of thousands Britons running into some sort of trouble while abroad each year, there is need for a change in policy.

He said a shake-up of the system is needed also because democracy is on the slide, populism is growing and the world is becoming a more dangerous place.

“Most of us when we’re travelling abroad or spending time with relatives abroad do not expect to come into contact with the state abroad and be arrested or detained," he said. "But the truth is with 25,000 people every year finding themselves in that situation, it’s right that there is a statutory right to assistance, not just a right that effectively depends on ministerial discretion.”

Alicia Kearns, Conservative MP and chairwoman of the foreign affairs select committee, said as more and more states resort to hostage-taking the UK should “call it out for what it is”.

The committee is looking into whether it should launch an inquiry into “hostage diplomacy”.

She said Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and her husband’s tireless campaign for her release “changed the world’s awareness on hostage taking” to open up more discussions on the matter.

Asked what more British ministers could do to show solidarity with Iranians risking their lives to call for freedom, Ms Kearns welcomed the government’s sanctioning of more than 40 people and organisations.

However, as the Iranian regime turns more and more to the death penalty as a means to punish those who speak up and instil fear in others, she said efforts needed to be stepped up.

“I believe that we have to see western allies respond,” she said. “So, after every single use of the death penalty there have to be additional sanctions; we have to stop this and make sure people aren’t prosecuted for trying to save lives.”

Asked whether it would make it more difficult for the UK government to get detained citizens out of Iran if it continued to punish the regime for its actions, Ms Kearns said London had to take a stand.

She said Iranian authorities were carrying out significant assaults on young girls who have removed their hijabs in protests, and said the regime could not be allowed to carry out such actions with impunity.

“Iran makes the wider world unsafe,” she said. “It is not an ally, it is not a friend, it is a terrorist state.”

Updated: December 28, 2022, 1:13 PM